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A major coaching move is happening in NCAA men's basketball


A major coaching move is happening in NCAA men's basketball.


JOHN CALIPARI: We've loved it here. But we think it's time for us to step away, step away completely, from the program.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Kentucky coach John Calipari announcing that after 15 years of the storied basketball program, he's leaving to coach at the University of Arkansas. He'll be paid 7 million a season, which is less than what Kentucky was paying him. We reached out to Matt Jones, host of Kentucky Sports Radio, to talk more about the move, which he says is an indication that the role of head coach is evolving.

MATT JONES: The salary of the coach is only part of the equation. Now with players getting money in terms of endorsements and NIL money, I think coaches are starting to say, look, maybe I take a little less money to be ensured that I'll be able to get the top players with donors donating to them as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and those NIL rules, that means college athletes can cash in on their name, image or likeness to make some money while they're in college. But, I mean, I got to ask you, Matt, because at the University of Arkansas, they make the tournament pretty much every year. But the expectations there are nowhere near as high and as crazy as they are at the University of Kentucky. Are you telling me that didn't factor into what John Calipari wanted to do with this new life?

JONES: College sports have changed drastically in the last four years. They are being run as corporations, and part of figuring out as a coach where you want to be is kind of what corporate structure best fits your personality. At Arkansas, boosters have now agreed to give $3 million to $5 million a year in endorsement money for the players. Well, that means Calipari doesn't have to do that.

MARTÍNEZ: So they're mini-CEOs is what you're saying?

JONES: Oh, I definitely think coaches are mini-CEOs. There are a lot of older coaches who've been coaching a long time who all have gotten out of the game in just the last few years. Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Jay Wright, these guys have all decided, look, running businesses is not why I got into basketball - I got into basketball to coach. With that said, there are young coaches who have decided - you know what? - this whole business thing I enjoy. This is all part of, like, a different level of basketball. Danny Hurley at UConn, who just won the national championship, kind of being the latest example.

MARTÍNEZ: So are you saying, Matt, that because of the newfound power that student athletes have, that puts the pressure on coaches to decide one way or another if they want to be part of that?

JONES: Yes. Now you have to recruit them, coach them and make sure that you're paying them as much as the other schools. It's just a different job. There are a lot of coaches who say it's worse. I don't think it's worse, I just think it's different.

MARTÍNEZ: So is John Calipari then, Matt, the canary in the coal mine, so to speak?

JONES: It's heading that way, yeah. I mean, there will be a couple who are able to adjust. You know, Nick Saban, the football coach at Alabama, was able to do it for a while. So there are some kind of old dogs that can learn new tricks. But I think a lot of them have become so wealthy they just don't want to deal with it.

MARTÍNEZ: So, Matt, what kind of a person is an ideal fit for a program with the tradition and expectations of, say, the University of Kentucky?

JONES: There's a couple of coaches, like Danny Hurley, I mentioned, at UConn. Scott Drew at Baylor is a guy who went to a program that had no resources and no history and built them into one that won a national championship and has been very successful navigating the new era. Then there's this group of very young coaches - the new coach at Duke, Jon Scheyer - that basically, they look at everything completely different. They've been business-oriented from the beginning, and I think they're also finding a little bit of success.

MARTÍNEZ: That is Matt Jones, host of Kentucky Sports Radio. Matt, thanks a lot.

JONES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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